Buttigieg's candidacy has echoes of pioneering Boston political race

By Edward M. Cook
Special to the Reporter

I have a very visceral reaction to Peter Buttigieg running for president. In March 1985, I moved back to Dorchester, my childhood home, and on June 20 I was elected the co-chair of the Dorchester Gay & Lesbian Alliance (GALA). By the end of that fall I had resigned my teaching job and taken over as the campaign manager for an openly gay candidate for state Senate, Kevin McFadden.  Mind you, this was two years before Barney Frank came out.

Kevin gave us the chance to take the fight to the enemy: He was running against Senator Joe Walsh, a 16-year incumbent whom we regarded as a hater, racist, misogynist, and homophobe of the rankest order. Walsh was the-then Senate President Billy Bulger’s ally and surrogate who would carry Bulger’s water whenever he did not want his hands to get dirty.

Today, Buttigieg is offering to oppose Trump, an incumbent with all of the attributes of Joe Walsh.

When he was deciding to run, Kevin was generally unknown, except in what we then called G/L circles and to some Dorchester community activists.  He had no money, and no organization.  But he was a real candidate. During the campaign, he was endorsed by every newspaper in the district, even some that had never before endorsed a candidate, and he was the only candidate, other than Joe Kennedy, who was endorsed by both the Globe and Herald.

He was also endorsed by the Massachusetts Teachers Association, Americans for Democratic Action, and other major organizations. He raised $85,000 (real money in those days). His campaign slogan, “You’re Included,” brought together Irish laborers, Vietnamese, Latino, and African-American voters, newcomers, and third generation residents. And, of course, Kevin mobilized the LGBTQ community.

In the end, he lost the election. But because of the scandals that his campaign unearthed about Walsh, the senator received the highest fine ever levied on a politician by the state’s Office of Campaign and Political finance and never ran again.

That campaign changed politics in Dorchester forever.  The LGBTQ+ community became a power in the minds of Dorchester’s political class. And that campaign changed me forever.

Pete Buttigieg’s candidacy has so many parallels to Kevin McFadden’s campaign that it moves me deeply. Most notably, he’s gay. He is the mayor of South Bend, in (ruby red) Indiana, a Navy veteran, and a progressive Democrat. Neither McFadden nor Buttigieg began as well-known candidates.  Both were/are seeking high office for the first time.  Both campaigns were conducted in homophobic political atmospheres.

And yet Buttigieg is attracting outsized attention. He is running third in Iowa behind Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders. He is running third in fundraising behind Bernie and Kamala Harris. He has already qualified for the debate cycle. In a powerful Democratic field of nineteen, he is being covered by all the national media outlets. He is wowing progressive voters with his articulate reflections on issues. All that before he formally declared.

I can only imagine Buttigieg becoming the Democratic candidate. But I want him to. I want him to take the fight to the worst and most dangerous enemy that we have ever faced in the history of the Republic. I want him to fight for all Americans, saying “You’re included!” I just sent him $250 and I will support him for as long as he is viable, because I want him to change politics forever, as Kevin McFadden did.

Edward M. Cook is a former co-chair of Dorchester Gay and Lesbian Alliance, co-founder of DotOut, former executive director of the Greater Boston Gay and Lesbian Political Alliance, and co-chair of the Ward 15 Democratic Party Committee.